Sunday, December 18, 2016

Celtic 2-1 Dundee

It's 5am on Friday morning and a bleary-eyed Sticky Palms is trudging down the stairs. I wolf down a bowl of porridge and slurp on a cup of green tea. My work colleague Lee and I are on the early flight to Glasgow for the Ideagen PLC Christmas party. I kiss Sleeping Beauty (Ms Moon) goodbye and head out of the door.

We cruise down the M42, arriving at Birmingham Airport with time to spare. The flight's delayed by an hour - it could have been worse as the Flymaybe 8:30am to Edinburgh is delayed by four hours. Customers are kicking off big style, venting their rage down the phone lines to Flybe customer service reps.

We jump in a taxi and head out of Glasgow, with its slate grey skies, up to our office in East Kilbride. The taxi driver is a Partick Thistle fan. He rambles on about the time he saw Scotland beat England 1-0 in 1964 - he missed the goal as he was dispatched to the bar to shout up the pints and pies.  We enjoy some banter in the commercial department before the trip back to the Hilton Glasgow. There's time for a quick cat nap and bath, before stepping out onto William Street and up to the Bon Accord on North Street. The cheerful tavern stocks an amazing 380 malt whiskies. I sink a couple of real ales from the Oakham Brewery.

The party is held in the hotel ballroom on the third floor. The highlight of the night is when a couple dance to 'Let it Go' from the film Frozen - the lady's partner literally does let her go. The poor woman twists on her stiletto's before unceremoniously crashing and slumping to the floor. The whole room are in stitches. Tears are rolling down my cheeks. The woman's friend (who looks like Bella Emberg off the Russ Abbot Show) on the next table, is not amused at my laughter. She asks me if I'd like to step outside - and I don't mean a hand-in-hand romantic walk down the River Clyde. Even Lee, who is from Mansfield and goes down the gym every day, is scared of her. I make my excuses and head upstairs for the night. Tomorrow we'll be doing some hard yards.

We refuel with a hearty breakfast in the hotel dining room and case the joint for 'Bella Emberg' before slinking off and checking-in at the Novotel just around the corner on Pitt Street. I suggest to Lee that I fancy stretching my legs and pegging it up to Parkhead. Kevin McSharry at work has tipped us the wink of a traditional Irish pub on the Cathcart Road called the Brazen Head. We jump into Ladbrokes and place a few bets - both of us expect Celtic to rack a few up today.

We finally come across the Brazen Head and boy oh boy it doesn't fail to disappoint. I'm taken aback at the memorabilia on show in the bar. Walls and ceilings are bedecked in flags, photos, scarves and shirts. The Guinness is poured beautifully and left to settle by a friendly bartender. Crystal Palace are playing Chelsea on the TV. We're as snug as a bug sat on bar stools, as the pub begins to fill up. A band member strums his Irish Ukulele as the group sing a few Celtic songs. The punters clap and cheer. The atmosphere is electric. We sink a few more pints before heading up to the Gorbals.

When I think of Scotland it reminds me of my Glaswegian pal Jim Henry and the brilliant comedy series Still Games. Jim had a brother called Rab (not related to C Nesbitt) who used to get me copies of the popular Celtic fanzine Not the View - so I've always had a soft spot for the Bhoys.

Celtic were founded in 1887 with the purpose being to alleviate poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow. The club has been crowned Scottish League champions on 47 occasions. 1967 was the Bhoys' Annus Mirabilis - they won every competition they entered including the European Cup, where famously the team were all born within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow. Celtic have only ever had 18 managers. Billy McNeill made 822 appearances for the Bhoys.

Their most expensive export was Victor Wanyama who they sold onto Southampton in 2013 at a £11 million profit. Celtic also hold the record for the highest attendance for a European club competition when 136,505 fans rocked up at Hampden Park for the 1970 European Cup semi-final versus Dirty Leeds United. In November 2008 Gil Heron, Celtic's first black player, passed away at the age of 88. He was the father of the jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron, who received critical acclaim for the well-known song 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.' *Thanks Kev McSharry for this nugget.*

Celtic Park comes into view. I take a wander around 'Paradise' and snap a few photos of the statues of Bhoys legends Jock Stein, Jimmy 'Jinky' Johnstone and Billy McNeill. Lee is gagging for a beer and I'm dying for a 'Jimmy Riddle.' We enter the turnstile in the Lisbon Lions Stand.  As I exit the toilet I find a crestfallen Lee with a face like a smacked arse - he's received some devastating news, alcohol isn't sold in Scottish football stadia - the bastards  .... how could they do this to us ? I thought they loved a bevvy up here ?

Perhaps we could nip up the Gorbals to see if some of the lads have any of that Buckfast Tonic wine that was blamed this week by a Dundee sheriff for drink-fuelled thuggery in Scotland. It nets the Buckfast Abbey Trust in Devon a cool £8.8 million per annum.

We take our seats up in the Gods of the Lisbon Lions Stand, enjoying the panoramic view of Parkhead and the landmarks of the city of Glasgow. Lee scoffs a meat pie and a cup of tea, still shaking his head at the alcohol ban.

Celtic are running away with the SPL. 20-year old French striker Moussa Dembele was awarded immediate cult status after a late winner versus Rangers a few weeks ago, following on from a hat-trick against them earlier in the season. He finds himself sitting on the bench today.

The atmosphere is electric despite Shakin' Stevens blasting out of the PA system. I'd expected a bit of Simple Minds, Orange Juice or even 'Donald Where's Your Trousers' by Andy Stewart - all are sadly absent. Dundee's greatest ever singer is no longer with us. In 1981 I paid £2.50 on the door at the Nottingham Boat Club at the back of Forest's City Ground to watch Dundee's finest - The Associates. The distinctive high-pitched tenor voice of Billy Mackenzie is something I will never, ever forget. On 22nd January 1997 Billy was found dead in his father's shed. He was only 39 years old.

Dundee sit deep, keeping ten men behind the ball. Celtic swarm all over them like a rash. Time and time again their full backs are left for dead by the overlapping wing backs, with the final killer ball being hoofed away with a desperate clearance. Brendan's Bhoys are overdoing the passing, nobody wants to take the responsibility of unleashing a shot, something that Dundee aren't afraid of on their rare forays into the Celtic half. A couple of efforts whistle past the wrong side of the post. Leigh Griffiths sees an effort kiss the woodwork after a wonderful give and go, while Tom Rogic squanders a chance when it looked easy to score.

Dundee are hanging on the ropes and desperate for the half-time whistle, so they can re-group. With seconds remaining Celtic are awarded a free-kick 22 yards out. Griffiths clips the ball beautifully with his left foot, sending it over the wall and into the net. Dundee manager Paul Hartley, an ex Bhoy, will be as sick as a parrot.

Celtic up the tempo in the second half and go for the jugular with ex-Notts County loanee Callum McGregor operating on the Celtic right wing. The game is all but over when the Israeli, Nir Bitton, guides the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

The Dens Park team don't know when they're beaten. The warning signs are there when they hit the post, moments later they pull a goal back from another former Notts County player Marcus Haber.
With a minute remaining substitute Faissal El-Bakhtaoui spurns a golden chance when skying the ball over the bar having been put clean through.

Attendance: Over 53,000 I'm hearing.

Man of the Match: Lee 'Lennie' Godber - for putting up with me all weekend.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Bilston Town 1-2 Willenhall Town

We spend the evening in the Cock, in Wivelsfield Green, Sussex. I sink a few pints from the Harvey's Brewery stable and remarkably win a few games of pool. It's an early start and long journey back to Nottingham on Sunday morning, that's only broken by a Burger King breakfast at Newport Pagnell services.

On arrival back home, I notice a cork from a 'vintage' bottle of Rioja, I bagged from Morrisons in Netherfield, has somehow fallen out of the bottle, that was sat on the mantelpiece and ended up on the carpet. I seal the area off and call in the lads from Heartbeat to carry out forensics - they'll soon have this case mopped up. There are a few green and yellow feathers scattered around the room, no obvious clues folks. Murphy the budgie is pulled in for questioning, as it appears there has been no forced entry. Those bungling fools at Aidensfield Police Station release him without charge.

I'm up in Warrington on Tuesday evening, dining out with colleagues in the hotel restaurant. I check my phone to find that 'The Lincoln' are 3-0 up in a pea-souper fog against crisis club Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup second round. The visitors claw back two late goals, leaving a trembling Sticky Palms biting on his fingernails through six minutes of added time. Ms Moon and I are booked in for the third round tie at Ipswich Town's Portman Road ground.

Wednesday evening is spent at The Stag Ground as Kimberley Miners' Welfare and Awsworth Villa lock horns in the Notts Senior Cup. I love it up here. I meet up with my good pal Johnny Buttery as well as bumping into 'Hobbo' 'Swifty', Danny Staley and John Harris. In front of an impressive 153 crowd, Kimberley earn local bragging rights with a 2-0 win.

I catch the fag end of the first day of the 4th Test between India and England in the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. England have drafted in 24-year-old batsman, Keaton Jennings from Durham. He's clonked India for a ton, but I don't know much about him. It's hardly a surprise to find he is once again another South African player that 'we' have fast-tracked through the system. His parents were proudly watching from their Mauritius holiday home when the boy was on 96 not out. An untimely power cut sadly saw them miss out on seeing his debut Test century.

I knock off from work and dash into town on Friday tea-time. I zip around town shopping for presents before calling by 'the Kilpin.' I sink three pints of Kilpin whilst enjoying random tunes on the iPod shuffle such as Dead Souls by Joy Division.

Ms Moon and her close friend Jill, have already sunk a bottle of prosecco on my return. They head off out into West Bridgford as Murphy and I curl up on the sofa watching a boring Brighton and Leeds game. I eventually switch the tosh off, placing on my headphones, listening to New Order's double album 'Substance.'

The good lady comes crashing through the door at one bells. I tried to stay awake in case she was attacked with a Cappucino, as West Bridgford is the coffee capital of Notts, or half a shandy if the Plumtree CC lads were on their Christmas outing. There's been a schoolgirl error on Ms Moon's behalf, of no snap before the session. A double cheeseburger won't be enough to save the day. I always have a 'Georgie Best Undercoat' (a pint of milk) before venturing out.

A deathly white, bleary-eyed Ms Moon, struggles her way through another gripping episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore on Saturday morning. Greengrass has got himself into a right old 'two an eight' again. Aidensfield are set to play Whitby Cricket Club in an annual charity game. Claude has offered even money on Whitby winning, everyone is piling in, including the Aidensfield team. PC Ventress bowls a pile of poo as Whitby win off the last ball, leaving a disgruntled Greengrass paying out a bundle full of tenners in the local boozer.

I manage to knock up a chilli con carne in the kitchen, whilst listening to Fighting Talk on Five Live. Justin Moorhouse is asked about today's clash between MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon. He refers to it as a neighbourly dispute about an overgrown hedge. I've had to tell Murphy the budgie that Brian Matthew is convalescing down in the seaside resort of Eastbourne, in Sussex, and won't be back on his show on Radio 2 until next week, at the earliest.

The clouds begin to darken as we head towards the Black Country. Paul Gambacinni is spinning the discs from 1981 - it was a pretty awful year chart wise. I treat Ms Moon to a high-pitched version of 'Body Talk' from Leee John and Imagination - it nearly shatters the windscreen.

It's tipping it down with rain as I exit the car outside the ground leaving Ms Moon to shoot off down the road to fill up with petrol. It's a fiver on the gate and £1 for the programme of the season. I take a wander around the ground before bumping into Chairman Graham Hodson and Vice-Chairperson Denise Frankham. I'm made so welcome, taken into the hospitality area and given a tour of the ground - what lovely, genuine people they are.

Ms Moon joins me in the main stand as the rain continues to pour from the darkening clouds. It's a local derby as the Landlords take on the Tenants in this West Midlands Regional League game.

Bilston is a town near to Wolverhampton with a population of 25,000, which was extensively developed for factories and coal mining. The local steelworks were closed in 1979 with 2,000 job losses, having been in production for 199 years. Bilston Town FC were founded in 1894 and play at Queen Street in the town. It was reported by the BBC in 2006 that the ground had been vandalised 120 times in six years.

Notable people born in Bilston include: the actor James Fleet, the bumbling 'Tom' in Four Weddings and a Funeral and also in the Vicar of Dibley, Slade drummer, Don Powell and Bert 'The Cat' Williams, MBE, Wolves and England 'keeper, who has a local sports centre named after him.

The teams emerge from the tunnel to 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC - it's totally random.There is a minute's silence in memory of Lisa Skidmore, a local District Nurse, who was murdered last week, just a few streets away from the ground. A former player, Mel Ball, has also recently passed away.

The visitors come out the traps quick, looking up for it. Their star man Chad Birch puts them 1-0 up on six minutes. Player-manager Mark Habbershaw doubles their lead with a 40-yard Exocet missile of a shot. They even manage to fluff a penalty before the Steelmen reduce arrears with a header from a free-kick. I have to check in the programme that the linesman on our side is not Mr S Wonder as he raises his flag more times in the first half than the French army in the Second World War. Even the referee's assessor sat behind me is having a good old moan.

The game ebbs and flows in the second period. The visitors are reduced to ten men after a sub is shown a straight Red after a two-footed lunge. The sides are even in numbers, moments later, after a 20 man melee results in three more players being sent for an early bath.

I'm willing on the home team for a deserved equaliser that just won't come their way. What a tremendous day out, all for £5.

Man of the Match: Chad Birch

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lewes 2-2 Sittingbourne

It's 4pm on Saturday, Ms Moon and I are exiting the Bilsthorpe Sports Ground in north Notts following a five-goal thriller. We call on an old work colleague of Ms Moon's who lives in the village. She makes us a much-needed brew as we toast our frozen feet by the fire in a cosy lounge. There's a huge stench of cat excrement in the car, that Ms Moon has managed to tread into the driver's side car mat. I'm wretching, folks, all the way home, with the window fully wound down in freezing temperatures.

I spend Saturday evening with a few pals out in the Vale of Belvoir, at the Nags Head in Harby - the TMS cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew lives just down the road. 'The Mayor of London' is holding court after a recent business trip to India. I have a sleepless night on his sofa, drifting off fitfully napping, finally awakening early doors with a thick head. I'm back at HQ for 9:30am. The bloody heating is on the blink. If that isn't enough I have to endure three of hours of the good lady 'singing' to the Sound of Music, which she has somehow chanced upon with the remote control. Murphy the Budgie asks for the towel to be placed over the cage and puts in a request to borrow my headphones.

A sharp frost on Monday evening sees the Radcliffe Olympic v Borrowash Victoria League Cup tie get wiped out on Tuesday - a shame that, as I was hooking up with Jitz and Dringy. I meet an old Impero Software colleague in the Herbert Kilpin on Thursday evening - well it's been a couple of weeks since I ventured in. 'Staring at the Rude Boys' by The Ruts is booming out on the iPod shuffle - their lead singer Malcolm Owen was found dead in his parents' bathroom following a heroin overdose on the 14th July 1980.

I get the brush-off from Ms Moon on Friday evening. Remember the old line a girl would sometimes throw at you, back in the day, when you asked her out on a date ? - "sorry I'm washing my hair." Well I fell victim to this cliche on Friday teatime, when an invitation for a drink in town is declined. Oh well, at least I get the chance to listen to the brilliant 6Music DJ and Colchester United fan Steve Lamacq spinning Half Man Half Biscuit's 'I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan.'

I'm up and in the shower at just gone seven bells on Saturday morning. We both don't want to break the news to Murphy Palmer the budgie that his favourite DJ, Brian Matthew, has been signed-off on the sick for a month. We're out the door before the show starts on Radio 2 - Murphy will be proper kicking off as he doesn't like his stand-in Sir Tim Rice - or Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We leave him pecking out a few words on a 'get well' card for Brian, that he says he'll drop off at 'Wogan House', before flying back up to Carrow Road to watch his beloved Norwich City.

We're off to the Dripping Pan today - a groundhopper's dream. Ms Moon's brother lives in nearby Burgess Hill. His partner, Suzie, is recovering and making progress from a major operation at Harefield Hospital. It'll be nice to see him and offer our support.

The main roads are as clear as a bell, even Tim Rice is on form as Sticky Palms bellows out hits from The Hollies (The Air That I Breathe), Herman's Hermits (No Milk Today) and The Walker Brothers (Make it Easy on Yourself). There's a quick pit-stop at Toddington Services before we finally tip-up at Burgess Hill, despite Ms Moon punching in the wrong postcode.

We're soon parked up in the historic East Sussex town of Lewes. We wander down the High Street before entering the John Harvey public house on Bear Yard, a bustling tap, named after the brewery's founder. It has a flagstone floor, a beamed bar and a flame-flickering woodburner. I enjoy a pint of Harvey's Indian pale and a brie and bacon sandwich. The waitress mucks up the order, but is very apologetic.

I settle the bill and leave brother and sister chatting to one another. I head back up the High Street following signs to the train station, whilst passing cafes, art galleries and chic and trendy bistros.
I can see the Dripping Pan in the distance and feel the excitement rise within me.

I cough up £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. Nothing can prepare me for the sweeping views of the South Downs and Cliffe Hill. I wander past the Club Shop, Rookery Bar and 'The Hatch' refreshment bar. There's a stand that runs along the touchline behind the dugouts with red tip-up seats. Behind the far goal is an open terrace with sixteen concrete steps. On the opposite side of the ground, people view the game at the top of a steep grass bank with a stone wall to their backs, that is taller than me.

I'm gobsmacked and awestruck with the beauty of the ground. I've visited over 400 now, but this would have to be in my Top 5. It is said that the ground is called the Dripping Pan (est 1885) as monks from the local priory used to dry the water from the nearby river to make salt. The Club has had a chequered history, but there's a real community feel about the place, with everyone mucking in for one another.

They've been managed twice by Steve King - a legend on the Non-League scene. I came across King myself when I worked at Notts County. Folk thought 'we' had some lolly when Sven Goran Eriksson was Director of Footballer. King, with his cashmere coat and pork pie hat, had the look of second-hand car salesman. He was hawking a boy around the circuit called Joe Ralls, who played for Farnborough Town youth team. My boss and I went to watch him and invited him in for a trial for the Pies. But he ended up signing for the Bluebirds of Cardiff where he has gone on to make over 100 appearances and is still only 23 years old.

Brighton Hove Albion's Solly March began his career at Lewes, with King once again instrumental in the transfer negotiations. We saw March give Nottingham Forest the runaround at the AMEX in August 2015 - he's already made 49 appearances for the Seagulls and is currently recovering from a serious injury.

Lewes FC made headline news last season when it was announced that the new wave band Squeeze would be sponsoring their shirts. The band's singer, Chris Difford, lives close by. Talking of music, the DJ is banging out a few pre-match tunes from Kasabian and Muse.

I stand at the top of the grass bank with my back to the wall, shielded from the cool air. I engage in conversation with a Barnet fan who looks like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses - he has more anecdotes than Albert. He used to play for the Bees back in the day and was also on the Lord's groundstaff. He's a keen Crown Green bowls player, who has been watching the Rooks since 1985 and is a fountain of all knowledge.

One or two Lewes players have picked up injuries from their trip to Guernsey - a few young uns have been drafted in. Sittingbourne take the lead in the third minute with a well-worked goal from a long throw-in, when a ball is played back to Joe Loft who strikes a daisy-cutter into the bottom corner of the net.

Lewes are battering Sittingbourne down the right-hand side but fail to find that cutting edge. Ms Moon and her bro tip-up at half-time. Andrew is like a Trumpy Junior (blog legend) with his beer-swilling skills and a king-sized Lambert and Butler cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

Against the run of play Lewes concede a sucker-punch goal to the street-wise visitors. Most teams would be dead and buried, but back they come for more. The young ref has had a 'Weston-Super- 'Night' Mare, constantly bringing play back and not allowing the advantage. He caves in to an appeal for a penalty, which allows Lewes back into the game.

'Uncle Albert' has now joined the raucous crowd cheering the young braves on from behind the goal in the 'Rookery.' The equaliser is a beauty and well deserved for their never-say-die attitude. A free-kick is clipped into the area, the visitors perform the 'Mannequin Challenge' allowing Smith to ghost in on the blindside and head home. The crowd go ballistic. I raise my arms above my head and clap furiously. The moment is beautiful and a befitting end to a brilliant day.

Attendance: 485

Man of the Match: 'Uncle Albert.' and 'Trumpy Junior.'

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bilsthorpe FC 2-3 Harworth Colliery

We've had a wonderful day out in Staffordshire and have discovered another gem of a ground out near Cannock Chase, close to where Stanley Victor Collymore used to 'walk his dog.' There's no time for a drinky poo on Trent Bridge - Ms Moon is off to watch some comedy at Notts County's Meadow Lane, and I don't mean the pantomime on the pitch during the 3-0 reverse to lowly Newport County.

Just the Tonic have comedians Reginald D Hunter, Paul from The Chase and Grimsby Town fan Lloyd Griffith on the bill tonight. It's at the Meadow Lane Sports Bar - the takings should help the owners stave off another HMRC winding-up order in the High Court on December 19th - they've had more court appearances than Nick Cotton.

I give the 'Comedy Night' the swerve, Murphy and I settle down for the evening's Spanish La Liga clash between the two Madrid teams. Ronaldo has a cigar on, it's a virtuoso performance from the 31-year-old Madeiran-born superstar. Murphy Palmer has proper got the hump. Norwich City have lost four games on the spin. The young Canary is threatening not to fly down the A52 next Saturday when they visit a rejuvenated D***y County.

I've nodded off to sleep in bed, that £5.99 Malbec from Aldi has done for me. Ms Moon and her mate, Kay, come crashing through the door at some God unearthly hour. I help them see off a KFC midnight feast.

There's not much popping during the week. Poor old Michael has bitten the dust in Phelan's yard. Murphy the budgie whistles and sings as Michael takes his final few breaths. Pat's not laughing now though as 'Dave Glover' off Emmerdale has double-sixed him by swanning off to Hawaii with all the lolly - don't ask me, I haven't got a Scooby-Do.

I'm up in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon on business. I was hoping to take in the Liverpool Senior Cup tie between Bootle FC and Marine. The chuffing weather puts paid to that. I spend the evening in my Premier Inn hotel room on the Albert Dock. I can't even be bothered to have a scout round for Pat Phelan and punch him in the face.

Ironically Steven Gerrard announces his retirement from football whilst I'm up in Merseyside. Folk wax lyrical about the famous Champions League final in Istanbul. For me, he'll be best remembered for the bar room brawl at the Lounge Inn in Southport, which resulted in Gerrard and his cronies from Huyton appearing before the beak after a DJ was beaten up after declining Stevie's request for a Phil Collins song - an arrestable offence in itself.  Gerrard was found not guilty with his QC, John Kelsey-Fry, reportedly a cool £250,000 better off after five days graft in the courtroom.

I sink a few Punk IPA's on Friday evening as Sean has a hissy fit with Norris Cole who is trying to swizzle him out of some dollar. On Sky Sports the Tricky Trees are giving Barnsley a good doing-over, without, for once, relying on the goals of star striker Britt Assombalonga.

It's Saturday morning and freezing brass monkeys. I've had to break the news to Murphy that Brian Matthew has phoned in sick and won't be hosting the Sound of the 60s show on Radio 2. The 88-year-old is 'feeling under the weather' according to his stand-in. Murphy pipes up that he's going to send him a 'get well' card.

Heartbeat is on ITV encore again. I'm gripped by the latest happenings as I slurp down a mug of Yorkshire Tea. PC Rowan is an undercover pirate radio DJ. Murphy cheers up when Rowan plays 'Waterloo Sunset' by The Kinks. Meanwhile the laziest copper in North Yorkshire, PC Alf Ventress, is caught red-handed by Sergeant Blaketon tossing it off reading the Sporting Life whilst dunking a digestive into his 'cuppa' tea. Greengrass is in a spot of bother when his house goes up in a puff of smoke after an unsuccessful venture at a Moonshine homebrew. It's quality TV folks.

I head down Daleside Road, Meadow Lane and onto Lady Bay Bridge, before walking down some steps that lead to the banks of the Trent. I wander past The City Ground and onto the Loughborough Road, taking a right hand turn down Wilford Lane.

Nottingham Forest under 18s and under 16s are taking on Huddersfield Town this morning. Academy football can be a bit boring and stale at times. The Forest 11 jacket is leading the Terriers a merry dance. You can tell he's not been in the system long as he has a little trick or two up his sleeve and actually takes a player on, rather than playing safe. Former Ipswich Town and NFFC striker David Johnson is stood next to me watching his son Brennan play. He says the 11 jacket is on trial. I google him and find out he is a Republic of Ireland under 16 called Yassine EnNeyah - I hope The Tricky Trees sign him.

A gaggle of groundhoppers are gathered at the top of a grass bank, viewing the game whilst discussing the latest offers on Tupperware sandwich boxes and plastic programme covers. I chat with a few parents and bump into a few scouts before being picked up by Ms Moon's taxi service and whisked off up to Bilsthorpe. It's the muck 'n nettles of the Central Midlands League today.  Paul Gambacinni is playing 'Beautiful Noise' by Neil Diamond from 1976. I remember buying that single for my mum on her birthday on Boxing Day - bless her soul.

Ms Moon parks up opposite the post office as I dash across the road to the Bilsthorpe Colliery Memorial Garden. A spaced-out guy walks past me inhaling on a joint. I take a few photos and pay my respects to the 77 miners that lost their lives at the pit, which is commemorated by a Davy Lamp in the garden.

Bilsthorpe is a village in the Newark and Sherwood District with a population of just over 3,000. The local colliery closed in 1997 after opening in 1927. On 18th August 1994 a roof collapse at the mine killed three miners including 31 year old Undermanager David Shelton, who was posthumously awarded the George Medal for bravery, as was survivor Ray Thompson.

It's £3 on the gate and £1 for the programme, everyone seems really friendly. We know Lee and Lance from Harworth after a previous visit. I have a groundhopper out of body experience after 20 seconds when I get my grubby mitts on the match ball - I have a smile as wide as the Mersey Tunnel.

I recognise the Bilsthorpe assistant manager, it's none other than the best talent spotter in North Notts, Mickey Gould. We wander over to the dugout and exchange some banter with the old bugger. He's trying his best not to swear as Harworth take the lead, mindful that ladies and bairns are present. He's a proper old school gentleman is Mickey.

It's 2-1 to the visitors at the break as we do another lap of the ground to keep the blood circulating. There's a bowls club, junior football pitches and a roped-off cricket pitch. The main pitch has a white-painted rail which runs half way around the ground. On the nearest touchline towards the furthest goal stands a frame from what was previously a covered stand, now dismantled. A 12-year-old boy has chased stray shots behind the furthest goal. He's sporting a D***y County training top, as he represents their Academy. I admire his dedication as he has brought with him a set of training ladders  which he jumps in and out of during the break.

Bilsthorpe give it their all in the second half, pegging back Harworth with a blistering shot that hits the roof of the net. Both teams go gung-ho in search of the winner. An own goal 5 minutes from time gives the visitors a victory, when on reflection a draw would have been a fair result. We say goodbye to the referee's mentor who we've chatting to on the far side of the ground. The young ref has done well today and has let the game flow.

Man of the Match: The African-born Irish winger for NFFC Under 18s

Attendance: 21 (Head count)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wolverhampton Sporting CFC 6-0 Wellington Amateurs

White Van Man is in cruise control as the 4x4 heads back up the A1 North from Biggleswade. Sticky P is riding shotgun, a tipsy Trumpy Bolton, who has left some fuel in the reserve tank, for his night out in the Keyworth Tavern, is slumped in the back seat putting the world to rights. Brexit campaigner Bolton had earlier in the day raised his eyebrows at Sticky, in the Jolly Postie in Royston, when I'd asked the waitress for some French mustard to accompany my gammon. When asked who should be the next England manager, he said that they might as well have asked Matt Baker from BBC One's Countryfile, rather than odds on favourite Gareth Southgate.

I chauffeur Mr and Mrs T Bolton to the Tavern, politely declining their invitation of a drink, before heading north of the Trent back to HQ. In the morning Ms Moon and I head up to Copper Cafe Bar on Woodborough Road in Mapperley. At 11 o'clock a two-minute silence is observed by all the customers, which is followed by a round of applause. We walk breakfast off around Gedling Country Park, admiring the stunning, sweeping views of Nottingham from its peak.

It's a relatively quiet week, apart from aquaplaning the 'Rolls Royce' down the A14 for an overnight stay in Ipswich. Any chance of a new ground in Suffolk is scuppered by the rain. I start to channel hop whilst England look comfortable versus Spain. A crazy last few minutes sees the visitors restore parity.

The highlight of the week is watching former West Yorkshire Chief Constable 'Sir' Norman Bettison squirm under pressure on Newsnight, as presenter Evan Davis grills him about the part he played in the 'Hillsborough Disaster.'  British book retailer Waterstones refuse the self-indulgent publication on their shelves. The idiot remains the subject of an IPCC investigation.

It's Friday evening and Sticky Palms is reading a Non-League book called the 'Bottom Corner' by Nige Tassell, whilst Murphy the budgie is minding his own business swinging upside down on his perch. Ms Moon is gripped by the latest goings-on in the cobbled streets of Coronation Street. Scouse 'property developer' Pat Phelan is offered £2,000 by some lass who works in Roy's Rolls to skedaddle. Phelan claims he couldn't even buy a 10-year-old Mondeo for that. Murphy and I are seething, we love our Sea Grey Mondeo, the cheeky sod. I'm up in Liverpool on Tuesday night and I'll be hunting Phelan down. Poor old Michael bites the dust in Len Fairclough's old builder's yard. It's an oscar-winning performance from Les Dennis - a TV Times gong is a shoe-in.

It's all hands to the pump in the morning, we're watching Heartbeat on ITV Encore. There's been a car accident up on the moors, Sergeant Blaketon is up at Aidensfield accident and emergency trying to comfort relatives of the bereaved. An emergency call comes in from PC Ventress back in the station, a pot of tea for three is mashing and he has cracked open a packet of McVitie's ginger nuts. The episode ends in pandemonium after Greengrass and Alfred the dog scoff a space cake.

It looks beautiful outside again. I stretch my legs across the road towards Nottingham Racecourse and Colwick Country Park. My walking boots crunch through the frost-covered leaves that litter the pavement. I exchange pleasantries with the out-of-breath Notts Police Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping who is on the fag end of a park run. I bumped into Paddy a few years ago during the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009. He was clutching a parking ticket from West Bridgford Library car park. I quipped:  "You claiming that one Paddy, eh ?"  ..... he didn't crack a smile.

I settle down to watch the lunchtime top of the table clash in the Conference between eco-friendly Forest Green Rovers and the 'Mighty Imps' of Lincoln City - 'The Lincoln' are bloody awful in the first half. Murphy requests that the match is turned off so he can peck his DAB radio and tune into Paul Gambacinni's 'Pick of the Pops.' He's soon head-butting his mirror in time to Freda Payne's 1970 hit 'Band of Gold.'

The drive to the Black Country is easy peasy lemon squeezy. We're in the 10-year-old Ford Mondeo - Pat Phelan from Corrie is on the roof rack. We're in the village of Great Wyrley within the hour. The car park is congested, so we shoe-horn the 'Rolls' into a vacant space down an adjacent country lane.

The Club were founded in 2001, having previously been called Heath Town Rangers - an area of Wolverhampton where the DJ, Goldie and former England coach Don Howe were associated with. They were formerly known as Chubb Sports FC, before the Chubb lock and safe factory closed down.

It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a programme - just the two left. I ask the young lads on the turnstile if Wolves Sporting will win this week - "not if we play like last week." They are referring to the shock 4-2 reverse at Stone Old Alleyians, WSC's first defeat of the season.

There's a red-bricked two storey building behind the nearest goal. A pre-school nursery is on the ground floor with the bar and function room up the staircase. I fiddle with 'Live Scores' on my phone. Ms Moon appears from the clubhouse with a tray of chips saturated in Ketchup. I'm doing the Michael Flatley Riverdance - 'The Lincoln' have pulled off a 3-2 win at league leaders Forest Green Rovers.

The game starts at 3:03pm - the 'Hopper' PC brigade would be incandescent with rage if they were here. Me personally, couldn't give a toss. From the kick-off a ball is sprayed out to the WSC winger, who falls arse over tit with the ball bizzarely rebounding off a random, stationary cherry-picker. Within five minutes the home side are 2-0 up. The first is created from a 'Rory Delap' long throw, which is headed into the bottom corner with the 'keeper' - who only arrived just before the game - going down in installments.

The visitors, from Telford, despite the scoreline, are impressing me. The 10 jacket is too hot to handle, as he twists, turns and wriggles past his opponents. The ginger-haired No.9 is tenacious in the tackle and intelligent with the ball - despite his younger years; he is his team's voice, encouraging and cajoling at every opportunity.

Bloody hell, we've bumped into a 'Proper Hopper' from Bristol - he's got more rattle than Danny Baker. I ask him if  he's got a sandwich box, plastic sleeve for his programme and whether he's caught the train and bus. I like the guy, despite him talking me through the 400 grounds he's hopped to. Ms Moon makes her excuses and dashes off to 'Wolfies Bar' - leaving me stranded with 'Hopper' telling me about ground 199 ... doh.

Don't ask me but Wellington have shunted the poor young ginger lad out on the right wing in the second half. I catch his attention and ask why he's on the wing and not in the middle where he can dictate the game. He's just back from university and recovering from a five-month lay-off with a broken collar bone.

Wellington raise the white flag in the second half, conceding a further four goals - it could have been more. Nobody's cause is helped by a referee who fails to spot obvious fouls, letting perpetrators off the hook. I have a lovely conversation with club 'General Dogsbody' Paul Harrison before bidding farewell to 'Bristol Hopper' - it's been another cracking day out, all for £5.

Man of the Match: Bristol Hopper

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Biggleswade Town 1-1 Hitchin Town

We're back in the Herbert Kilpin, in Nottingham, early doors on Saturday evening. I sink a couple of Kilpin's - a session beer from the Black Iris Brewery. We're up Market Street, the home of the famous Selectadisc record shop that appeared on the front cover of the Oasis album 'What's The Story Morning Glory.' The venue is Revolucion De Cuba, to celebrate Piers' 40th - he's a top lad who has organised some legendary weekends away over the years in Whitby and Abersoch.

If I'm honest, I'm not confident of a real ale or draught lager at this Cuban joint. I shout up a Babycham (prosecco) for Ms Moon, as a pint of lager flows from the beer tap - it suddenly grinds to a halt a quarter of the way up the glass - "sorry sir, that's the lager done for the night" - it's not even 9pm. What Bolt picked this 'watering hole, Fidel Castro ? We mop up kebab and chips at another dodgy outlet, before watching our good friend Sean Dyche enjoy another home victory for the Clarets.

It's bitterly cold on Sunday morning and hammering it down with rain. We repeat my walk of yesterday around the picturesque setting of Colwick Country Park - it's not a patch on the previous day, the place is deserted. The only folk taking advantage of the inclement conditions are the sailing boats racing down the Trent from Colwick Yacht Club.

Ms Moon has some food shopping to do - I make my excuses and head up back into town to the Kilpin for a couple more pints of their signature brew. A barmaid, whose arms are plastered in tattoos, provides waitress service, having recognised me from the night before. I smash out the blog on my return home, as Ms Moon watches a film called Joy which sends Murphy the budgie to sleep.

It's a filthy evening on Tuesday. I'm sat in my car outside the Co-op in Ruddington wolfing down a gorgeous piece of cod from the Fish Bar. I hook up with The Taxman at the Nottingham Knight, before making the short journey to Ilkeston FC's New Manor Ground. The visitors are Spennymoor Town, who exited the FA Cup at MK Dons on Saturday in a narrow 3-2 defeat. They play fast-flowing football, comfortably winning 3-2, despite a stubborn resistance from a young, plucky Ilson.

The old 'Barnet' needs a trim - I head up to Wisdom's Barbers on Mansfield Road on Friday tea-time to see the lads from Kurdistan. I tick off the newly-opened Six Barrel Draughthouse on Carlton Street. I neck a pale ale from the Roosters Brewery in Knaresborough, before hooking up with Ms Moon at the Missoula Montana Bar on High Pavement. Fizz is half price and the craft ales are decent. I have a pint of the aptly-named Blue Moon as Motown music booms out the pub sound system. We manage to stomach an hour of England v Scotland before as if by magic Emmerdale Farm appears on catch-up.

In the morning Murphy the budgie and I have a heart to heart. It's no secret that he and Ms Moon don't see eye to eye - particularly when he whistles throughout Strictly and Pointless. I'm leaving the little lad in Ms Moon's capable hands today - Murph is terrified of an all-day lock-in. I leave him the phone number of the RSPB and tell him to keep me posted of any nasty goings-on that we can use in a grievance leading to a HR investigation.

Today is a 'Jolly Boys' outing and Keyworth reunion. I race across to my old neck of the woods to pick up Trumpy Bolton and White Van Man - the old gang. Bolton saunters down to WVM's crib - he's only eight doors down. It's the same old scenario - he's swinging his carrier bag with a litre bottle of cider nestled in the bottom.

We're travelling executive style in the 4x4 - first port of call is Saffron Walden in Essex, with its rich heritage and historic buildings. I'm flapping a wee bit that it's hosing it down and might not end up seeing a game, as my twitter timeline is filled with postponements.

Blog legend Bolton has had a toasted slice of fruit loaf with a smidgen of Clover butter, accompanied by a bottle of Hopping Hare from the Badger Brewery for his breakfast. White Van Man is a friend to the stars. He often sits in the sauna of the local health club, chewing the cud with former Leeds United and Manchester United striker Alan Smith, who is now a player-coach at Ray Trew's Notts County. The other day, whilst sweating in the sauna, WVM was asked his opinion on Nottingham Forest - "they're shit" he replied. A guy in the corner upped sticks and left for the showers, it was the NFFC assistant manager, Serge Romano. A faux pas at its finest  ... lol.

WVM is on full power, we're soon in the congested High Street of Saffron Walden by midday. 'When The Sun Goes Down' by Sheffield indie band Arctic Monkeys is blaring out the car stereo speaker as WVM leaves his hazard lights on in a loading bay. Sticky P is instructed to dash across the road into Humpherys Butchers. I pick up three carrier bags of bacon (don't ask me, haven't got a Scooby Doo). The butcher clocks the Notts County training top I'm wearing. He complains about Cambridge United manager Shaun Derry and their disastrous start to the season. I explain that Derry is known in our parts of Notts as 'Junior Warnock.' WVM is gesticulating and waving his arms around in fear of being booked by a traffic warden - I bid farewell to the Butcher.

We head towards Royston so Trumpy can tick a pub off. For those reading this blog for the first time (God bless you) Mr Trumpy Bolton is trying to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Scotland and Wales - it's a hobby he's pursued for over 40 years. He has a crumpled old atlas that has recently been reinforced with Sellotape - every place visited is highlighted off. Receipts and statements are meticulously filed in alphabetical order in ring binders.

WVM flicks the scan button on the car stereo, stumbling upon BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The DJ plays 'Get the Message' by Electronic and 'Beautiful Ones' by Suede - Bolton and Sticky sing in unison.

We tip up at the Hertfordshire town of Royston, and more importantly the 'Jolly Postie.' We're met by a welcoming landlord and McMullen IPA - Trumpy poses in the back of a Royal Mail van that sits in the front window. A postman delivers mail to the pub as we exit to the car park - ooh, the irony.

Biggleswade Town confirm the game is ON, despite the pouring rain. We sit in a soulless Greene King pub, eating gammon, double fried egg and chips - Trumpy goes nouveau cuisine - preferring Whitby scampi. Tunnel of Love by the Fun Boy Three is the pick of the tunes on Radio Greene King.

Biggleswade is a market town situated on the River Ivel in Bedfordshire. It's the HQ of Jordan Cereals. Felix cat food was once made here. Biggleswade Town were founded in 1874 and play at the Carlsberg Stadium. The comedian and singer Charles Penrose, famous for the Laughing Policeman song, and Stevie V - a dance act famous for the song Dirty Cash (Money Talks) - are from this neck of the woods.

It's a short drive to a rain-puddled track that leads up to the car park. It's £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme light on content, but nonetheless the guy who sells it is cheery and friendly. The ground is a new-build. The playing surface is short, lush and flat. I bump into a Wrexham fan who has recently moved to Hertfordshire and now follows Hitchin - he rates them highly.

Bolton is already in the bar lining up the John Smiths as the teams observe a silence for Remembrance Day. Hitchin are in the top two, their class shines through with the give 'n go and movement off the ball. The final delivery and end product is sadly lacking.

A good mate of mine, Chris Keeling, played for Hitchin in the 80s - his brother, Paul is a great friend of mine. Chris tragically lost his life in a car accident in 1994 - he was only 31 and one of the kindest people I've ever met. We saw him play for Hitchin against Tooting and Mitcham in 1985.

Trumpy earwigs a conversation between the subs of both teams who appear to know one another. They moan and groan about not being in the starting XI and compare the dollar they earn. Bolton gets chinwagging with a Biggleswade sub who is coming back from injury and appears to have a geniune love for the game. Trumpy advises the lad to have a couple of looseners in the bar at the break to calm his nerves - it's old-skool Brian Clough.

Hitchin take the lead when 4 jacket lashes home a dipping, swerving shot that leaves the goalkeeper catching flies. Trumpy has caught on that they sell bottles of  Cornish real ale Tribute in the bar - I can't see him shifting now. He gets chatting to a visiting supporter who is sat with his little lad aged five years old. "What a goal", shouts up Bolton to his Dad. "We missed it mate, my son wanted the toilet and a bottle of pop" replies a disgruntled Dad.

White Van Man is steaming more than the piping hot tea he's bought, having been relieved of £3 for two cups of tea. The visitors sit on a one goal lead and pay the price five minutes from time when a shot from outside the area hits the inside of post before finding its way into the net. The replay is set for Monday night.

Man of the Match: The Laughing Policeman

Attendance: 325